Friday, January 2, 2009

Vale Helen Suzman 1917- 2009

Leading South African anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, who for decades served as a lone voice of parliamentary dissent against white minority rule, died on Thursday at the age of 91. Full SMH article.

Amazing story. I am discovering a lot of interesting women in politics and the arts recently. Like Clara Haskil, the great 20th century pianist, or Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferrera and Barbara Lee - less well known in American politics than Hilary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice.

Helen Suzman was a privileged young Jewish white woman in South Africa who dropped out of university to marry and live the good life. She then got tired of horse riding, dancing and parties, went back to university and became politicized.
From 1961 to 1974, she was the Progressive Party's sole representative and the lone liberal voice in the white-only Parliament and used her debating time to rail against forced removals, racial inequalities, the erosion of the rule of law, capital punishment, torture, censorship, police abuses and other trademarks of white minority rule.

Her two main targets became segregation - which saw about 3.5 million blacks removed from their homes - and the laws that allowed the state to detain political opponents without trial for 90 days.

An apartheid minister once told her in Parliament: "You put these questions just to embarrass South Africa overseas", to which she replied: "It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is your answers."

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